Skip to main content

Full text of "My Country And My People"

See other formats

SOCIAL    AND    POLITICAL    LIFE          igi

yet by definition exists by being shown to the public. It exists
in the ether and yet can be heard, and sounds eminently
respectable and solid. It is amenable, not to reason but to
social convention. It protracts lawsuits, breaks up family
fortunes, causes murders and suicides, and yet it often makes a
man out of a renegade who has been insulted by his fellow-
townsmen, and it is prized above all earthly possessions. It
is more powerful than fate and favour, and more respected
than the constitution. It often decides a military victory or
defeat,, and can demolish a whole government ministry. It is
that hollow thing which men in China live by.

To confuse face with Western "honour" is to make a grievous
error. Chinese girls used to die for face, if their bodies had been
accidentally exposed to a man, as some Western women were
once willing to drown themselves for having an illegitimate
child. And yet in the West, the man who is slapped on the
cheek and does not offer a challenge for a duel is losing "honour9*
but not losing face. On the other hand, the ugly son of a
taofai, who goes to a sing-song girl's house, is insulted and
returns with a company of police to order the arrest of the
sing-song girl and the closing of the house, is getting "face,"
but we would hardly say he is guarding his "honour."

Battles have been lost and empires have been sacrificed
"because the generals were bargaining for some honorific titles
or some inoffensive way of accepting defeat rather than pro-
ceeding according to military tactics. Hot controversies have
raged and protracted legal battles have been fought, in which
the wise arbiter knows that all the time nothing really prevents
the parties from coming together except a nice way of getting
out of it, or probably the proper wording of an apology. A
general split a political party and changed the whole course of
a revolution because he was publicly insulted by a fellow-worker.
Men and women are willing to drudge all the summer in order
to keep going a funeral celebration appropriate to the standing
or face of the family, and old families on the decline are willing
to go bankrupt and live in debt for life for the same reason.

Not to give a man face is the utmost height of rudeness and
is like throwing down a gauntlet to him in the West. Many
officials attend between three and four dinners in a night and